psychical research

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical.
Related to psychical research: psychic phenomena

psychical research:

see parapsychologyparapsychology,
study of mental phenomena not explainable by accepted principles of science. The organized, scientific investigation of paranormal phenomena began with the foundation (1882) of the Society for Psychical Research in London.
..... Click the link for more information.

Psychical Research

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Psychical Research is the scientific investigation of psychic and mediumistic phenomena. The term is used interchangeably with “parapsychology"—the study of such psi abilities as extrasensory perception, clairvoyance, clairaudience, psychokinesis, precognition, and similar. Psychical research also covers investigation of such things as ghosts and hauntings, poltergeist activity, levitation, rappings, apparitions, Instrumental Transcommunication, Electronic Voice Phenomena, spirit photography, Electronic Voice Phenomena, and more.

In 1882, the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was founded. Its original prospectus stated, “It has been widely felt that the present is an opportune time for making an organized and systematic attempt to investigate that large group of debatable phenomena designated by such terms as mesmeric, psychical, and spiritualistic. From the recorded testimony of many competent witnesses, past and present, including observations recently made by scientific men of eminence in various countries, there appears to be, amid much delusion and deception, an important body of remarkable phenomena, which are prima facie inexplicable on any generally recognized hypothesis, and which, if incontestably established, would be of the highest possible value.” One of the “scientific men of eminence” who did much early research was the world famous physicist Sir William Crookes. He first came into contact with Spiritualism in July, 1869, and the following year announced his intention of entering into an intense and thorough investigation of the phenomena.

The SPR originally grouped phenomena into five separate sections, each covered by a committee. The first of these examined “the nature and extent of any influence which may be exerted by one mind upon another.” The second looked at “hypnotism and the forms of so-called mesmeric trance.” The third did a “critical revision of (Baron Karl von) Reichenbach’s researches with certain organizations called ’sensitive,’ and an enquiry whether such organizations possess any power of perception beyond a highly exalted sensibility of the recognized sensory organs.” The fourth section carried out “a careful investigation of any reports, resting on strong testimony, regarding apparitions at the moment of death.” The fifth held “an enquiry into the various physical phenomena commonly called spiritualistic; with an attempt to discover their causes and general laws.” The American Society for Psychical Research was founded in 1885 and, since then, many other similar professional groups have come into being.

Psychical Research has been going on for centuries. As early as 1323, Pope John XXII called on the services of Brother John Goby, Prior of the Benedictine Abbey near Avignon, to investigate the ghost of Alais, in southern France. Goby submitted a full report of his investigation which was later printed in the official Annales ecclesiastici.

Nandor Fodor points out that the first concern of psychical research is to establish the occurrence of the claimed facts. He said, “If they are not due to fraud, observational error, the laws of chance, i.e., if they are found to occur, the next stage of the inquiry is to establish the reason of their occurrence, whether the known natural laws are sufficient to explain them or whether there is reason to suppose the action of unknown forces.”

In An Assessent of the Evidence for Psychic Functioning, Professor Jessica Utts studied psychic functioning research conducted over a twenty year period to determine whether or not the phenomenon had been scientifically established. She stated, “Using the standards applied to any other areas of science, it is concluded that psychic functioning has been well established. The statistical results of the studies examined are far beyond what is expected by chance. Arguments that these results could be due to methodological flaws in the experiments are soundly refuted. Effects of similar magnitude to those found in government-sponsored research at Stanford Research Institute and Science Applications International Corporation have been replicated at a number of laboratories across the world.

Such consistency cannot be readily explained by claims of flaws or fraud.”


An Assessment of the Evidence for Psychic Functioning:
Fodor, Nandor: Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. London: Arthurs Press, 1933
Smyth, Frank: The Supernatural: Ghosts and Poltergeists. London: Aldus, 1975
Spence, Lewis: An Encyclopedia of the Occult. London: George Routledge & Sons, 1920
Psychography see Writing, Automatic
References in periodicals archive ?
According to Brower, psychical research never achieved paradigmatic status because it was inescapably subjective.
Rather, such manifestations are shrewd acts of defiance and self-preservation that ultimately exposed the inadequacy of positivist science as well as the assumptions of psychical research.
The conference will cover subjects such as Religion and Psychical Research, Medicine, and Healing, Spiritual Development, East-West Dialogue, Mysticism, Reincarnation, Life after Death, and Near-Death Experiences.
The group, Phenomenon On-Line, said the Society for Psychical Research was even advising paranormal researchers to be aware of the confusing effects of low frequency sound.
13) Somewhat paradoxically, then, many Victorian scholars turned to psychical research, the ostensibly scientific investigation of such phenomena as mediumship and telepathy, to interpret supernaturalism.
Their topics include modern spiritualism and psychical research in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, temple building and the re-creation of religious boundaries in contemporary urban India, and religious practices on the margins between Buddhism and Shamanism in southern Siberia.
As a member of the Society for Psychical research, he investigates strange goings on such as mysterious knocking sounds and footsteps which have no apparent physical cause.
Irwin concedes that their inclusion might be justified on the grounds that they reflect "mysteries" that resist conventional explanation, but this seems unnecessary given parapsychology's origins in psychical research that clearly set out the scope, as expressed in the inside front cover of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, "[to investigate] without prejudice or prepossession and in a scientific spirit those faculties of man [emphasis added], real or supposed, which appear to be inexplicable on any generally recognised hypothesis.